The New York Times Declares Apologies Pointless

SorryNotSorry

NYT business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s #ApologyWatch tag pretty much petered out, much to the joy of whoever kept reminding us that someone else came up with it first.

Yesterday, though, the Grey Lady ran a piece by David Greenberg of ethics and compliance solutions provider LRN that caught our attention. The issue: why do so many apologies come across as insincere and lame? The answer: because no one really wants to make them and no one really wants to hear them.

“…the modern apology has strayed far from its purpose — acknowledgment and redress of a wrong — and is simply a tactic played out in a larger zero-sum game of winners and losers.”

Greenberg argues that no present-day apology comes without a very specific agenda, otherwise no one would ever say “I’m sorry” in public. By asking endless questions about how statement X advances the interests of party Y, we’ve reduced the state of contrition to another communications tool that’s all but meaningless except when it comes to moving that perception needle a fraction of an inch.

This goes both ways, too: Greenberg writes that the party on the receiving end of any apology (and it’s almost always a party, not a person) also has very specific goals in mind…like “who can use Gary Oldman’s controversial quotes to gain press coverage?”

He then argues that apologies need to be less public spectacle and more private conversation–and that journalists need to be more upfront in calling it like it smells.

Does Greenberg have a point, or is he simply stating the obvious?